“As a startup, we are aware that to get into retail you have to spend a lot of money” on everything from well-designed packaging and branding to slotting fees and consumer outreach, but with foodservice, some of that burden is lifted, Barak Melamed, CEO of Rilbite, explained from the conference room of the food-tech incubator The Kitchen, which is helping the business find its footing.
He explained that eventually Rilbite, which makes a plant-based minced meat that can be used for everything from burgers to meatballs to bolognaise sauce, wants to sell at retail as a CPG, but for now “we are going hardcore food service,” similar to how the Impossible Foods focused first on restaurants to create buzz and a loyal following.
In addition to focusing on restaurants, Rilbite also is zeroing in on more mainstream foodservice opportunities, such as through the school districts in Israel, where children observe meatless Mondays, and the country’s army core.
“We are actually participating in a program called the 2030 project, which is [designed] to decrease the amount of child obesity by 50% by 2030, and our product was chose to be use by the schools at lunch in Israel, and we are the only vegan product that qualifies,” said Itai Farkas, the COO of Rilbite.
A clean ingredient deck sets Rilbite apart from the competition
He explained that the company’s plant-based take on minced meat made the cut for the project and Israeli schools in part because of its simple, clean ingredient list and how easy it is to use as a one-to-one substitute for animal-based minced meat.
“Our product is made of eight ingredients that are just food. What do we have here? Rice, lentils, tomatoes, soy or pea, cranberries unsweetened and onions. That’s pretty much it,” beyond apple cider vinegar and spices, explained Melamed. “There are no processed sugars, no processed fats, no stabilizers, no emulsifiers, no any kind of E-numbers.”
And yet, he added, “the product is stabilized. When you are trying to do a meatball, for example, and you throw it directly into the sauces, the product does not break. It behaves the same way as meat does,” whether the cooking process is grilling, steaming, baking or simmering.
Because the product functions so similar to animal-based meat, Farkas added, chefs don’t have to adjust recipes that originally called for animal protein. “They can use the same old meat recipes. They can do the same lasagna or burgers or any kind of what they are used to doing and just change the meat with Rilbite – keeping the same portions, the same methods, the same quality of service. Everything is actually the same. So, they use it without any trouble.”
A nutritional powerhouse
The product’s nutritional profile also likely is appealing to school officials and others operating foodservice.
“I made the product for myself and my wife. So, I was looking for the best thing I could do for myself and then I saw the nutritional values [for Rilbite] are at the top. So, that was the main goal, to be extremely health and yet have a great bite and taste as well,” Melamed said.
He explained that per 100 grams, Rilbite offers 22 grams of protein, 4.2 grams of fiber and only 146 calories, 0.2 grams of fat, 2.1 grams of sugar and 0.362 mg of sodium.
“You can just eat, eat, eat and eat and it has everything you need in order to have a wonderful day,” he said laughing.
A sustainable solution
The product also checks the box for better sustainability compared to animal protein – an increasingly important touchpoint for many consumers.
Melamed explained that the finished product takes only 76 liters of water per serving, including all the water necessary to grow the grains and other ingredients, compared to a beef burger which uses 2,500 liters of water per 70 grams.
“In a world talking about sustainability and saving the planet, we are actually doing it. We are use 100% of the ingredients, we use no tap water and we are healthy, sustainable and the product is versatile,” he said.
Slow and steady growth on the horizon
While Rilbite holds significant promise, it still is at a very early stage and in the process of raising “a small intermediate sum” to “put into motion a small manufacturing facility that we already have in place, but we need a few last inches,” said Amir Zaidman, VP of business development at the food-tech incubator The Kitchen where Rilbite currently operates.
Melamed added that the company plans to go into mass production in six months and will focus first on the European market, where it has generated keen interest. Once it is established, it hopes to expand to retail and its distribution, he said.